Most of Justin Lavner’s summer camps are designed to get kids up and out of the house, so it’s hard to see where his summer robotics and video game programming camps fit in.
But these camps help exercise that other part of children’s bodies that tend to be underused in the summer months — their brains.
After testing out the robotics camp idea last summer, Lavner has made the camp available at four locations in the Philadelphia area: the Cynwyd Club in Bala Cynwyd, the Barrack Academy in Bryn Mawr, Abington Friends School in Jenkintown and Valley Forge Educational Services in Malvern, PA.
“I wanted to create a camp where kids can shine, even if they do not always excel on the sports field. Robotics Camp is a place where this happens,” Lavner, the owner of Lavner Camps and Programs, said. “We received a lot of feedback from parents who thanked us for running a great camp, and said their kids much preferred our Robotics camp over general day camp, where sports can be an emphasis.”
You can learn more about the camps here.
Last year, the robotics programming attracted approximately 200 campers to the one week camps that run throughout the summer.
The Robotics Camps aren’t simplistic either.
Campers work in groups of three or four to actually build small humanoid robots and, as they advance, can even create their own robot design. At the end of camp, campers of all levels and ages compete in what’s called ROBOWARS, which sounds futuristic and dystopian, but allows kids to show off their robots’ abilities.
In order to teach kids that range in age from six to 14 with little to no computer programming experience how to build small humanoid robots, Lavner says he actively seeks out highly experienced counselors and pays them well. Many of the counselors are student or graduates from top schools known for their engineering programs, including: Colgate, Columbia, Drexel, University of Pennsylvania Engineering and its school of arts and sciences and Temple.
“As a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, I have had a great network of highly intelligent and technical people to draw from both in and outside of the university,” Lavner said. “By investing financially in our excellent instructors, the overall quality of the camps reaches an extremely high level.”
Lavner, 30, who lives in Bala Cynwyd, was a tennis player at Penn, he says. Lavner Camps and Programs started out as the Lavner Tennis Academy for high level tennis training, a business that grew out of his tennis experience, he told Technically Philly.
But Lavner says his passion for helping kids learn and gain confidence himself motivated him to apply the lessons he’d learned running tennis camps to other types of programming.
“We have always understood how to help our students succeed, have fun and feel great about themselves,” Lavner said. “The model is growing to new areas, and we are reaching many new kids and families, which is a great success for us.”
This summer, the Video Game Programming and Design camp takes a much-reviled childhood activity and turns it into a learning opportunity.
“It offers great value in the sense that campers are being very proactive by creating their own video games, as supposed to playing videos games mindlessly on the couch for hours,” Lavner said. “There is nothing wrong with gaming in moderation, but this particular camp is all about creating, building, learning, and challenging themselves with games they make from scratch.”
Lavner’s camps run in one-week increments, but campers can participate for as many week as they want. During the school year, Lavner also offers after-school programming.
If you’ve got a child who might want to make a video game instead of just play it or build a robot instead of just watch one on TV, you can learn more about the camps here.
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